The National Society Schools, Bedmond Road Leverstock Green
The exact date of the beginnings of Leverstock Green’s Schools in Bedmond Road is a little confusing, as at least one of the National Society’s records refers to a school known as St. Michaels, and built on waste land in Leverstock Green as early as 1833. However a letter to Walter Ayre, the then headmaster of Leverstock Green school in 1970 states:
We have had some difficulty in tracing particulars of the old school and teacher’s house at Leverstock Green. Evidently the school was erected in 1846 at the sole expense of the curate of Abbots Langley, the Rev. Edward Oswell, at a cost of about £200. It had been originally propose to adapt an old Methodist chapel for the purposes until Mr. Oswell came forward with his offer. He had apparently purchased a copyhold site on which to erect the school; this was not conveyed to trustees as Mr. Oswell wished to be able to withdraw the building and make it available for other purposes in the even of new schools being erected at a later date. The school was united to the National Society and the society made a grant of £10 towards fitting it out with seats and benches: the building was used for divine service on /Sundays.
According to a statement made in 1862 to the Committee of council on Education the teacher’s house was built by public subscription. No date of erection is given, but the return to the National Society’s Church Schools enquiry of 1846/7 records the existence of a teacher’s house which was virtually secured for the purpose. The house is supposed to have been erected on Manor waste land and there is no known instrument of title.
In 1921 the house, which consisted of only 2 bedrooms with a sitting room and tiny scullery, was enlarged and modernised by the additional of a larger bedroom, bathroom a larder and an earth close; at the same time essential repairs were carried out and the total cost amounted to £298. £100 of this was granted by the diocese and £36 by the National Society the rest being raised locally.
The school was apparently enlarged at various times in the last century but we have no details. The society made 2 small grants of £10 and £12 towards repairs in the 1920’s but as you know the school was condemned by the Education Department and a new school erected in 1930/31. We have no information about the log books, it is probable that none existed before 1863 when the first annual government grant was received and it became compulsory to keep one.”
Fortunately for posterity, the logbooks resurfaced and have now been entrusted to my care. They make compelling and interesting reading, particularly in the earlier years, and I have undertaken a full transcription of the logs from October 1863 to 1885 thereafter merely recording the more important entries. (Links can be found on my website at http://bacchronicle.homestead.com/LGChronicle.html).
It would be possible for me to fill numerous pages on the early history of the school using these logs and other documents, instead I shall try and keep my comments to those of a general nature or architectural importance, for as we heard in the letter above, the school and the teacher’s house were to undergo several phases of enlargement and extension, but by the late 1920’s the were condemned as unfit. The school buildings were eventually to be demolished use for a number of years for community purposes such as a child welfare clinic. Modern houses have been built in their stead. The teacher’s house, now spruced up and ready for the 21st century still stands and is known as The Old School House, with a plaque 1857 on the outside, denoting the date of the first school enlargement.
Many of the early entries in the log book deal with the visits by Mrs. Key and her daughters from Chambersbury, they would come and listen to the children sing or read and regularly supervised sewing classes for the girls. They would also bring along visitors staying with them or at the Vicarage to see how well the children did. Another frequent visitor to the school was the incumbent who would also take the older children for scripture lessons.
The logbooks are a valuable source of social history as shown by this entry for December 11th 1863: Friday- 52 present - workers exceed platters. Children come very late in morning - excuses from parents - children have to plait before school hours. There are many similar entries reflecting life in Victorian England, where the children were expected to contribute towards the family economy so that visits to market on Market day, gathering acorns, or helping to get in the harvest were more important than school attendance. The weather also greatly affected school numbers as the children were drawn from several miles around and very wet, snowy or freezing conditions made the journey impossible. Full state control of education was only established by the Elementary Education Act of 1870, and was not made compulsory until 1880. A charge was levied for each pupil until 1891 when elementary education became free; 2d a week for each child until 1876 when it was then reduced to 1d.
Sadly illness and death also appeared in the logbooks, increasing with frequency as the century drew to a close. The first major entry of this kind to appear was in April 1864: Wednesday 13th - Jane Cooper died of scarlet fever - after being ill only 9 days - she was remarkable for her sweetness of temper - attention to lessons and good conduct. Other ailments, sometimes fatal, included diphtheria, whooping cough, polio, mumps, influenza and measles, and there were several occasions in the life of the school when the school was closed by the authorities for a week or more at a time due to the prevalence of such disease. Between June 1897 and August 1898 the school was closed almost as frequently as it was open due to 3 successive epidemics of diphtheria, and one each of whooping cough and measles, and during which time there were three deaths and numerous children taken to the fever hospital in Hemel. If parents today doubt the wisdom of having their children inoculated against childhood diseases they have only to read the school log books to settle any doubts they may have.
It was noted in a booklet on the history of Leverstock Green School produced in 1985 , that by 1885 the school had two main rooms divided by curtains and heated by large open fires. Staffing levels had also increased to 4, including a monitor. In September 1864 Helen Purvis the schoolmistress had recorded: Wednesday 7th - Bricklayers at work - new fireplace. Thursday 8th - Kept school in small room - because of the workmen in the large room.
The school was further enlarged in 1887 when a new building was added. The report of the HM Inspector in January 1887 had stated re the Infant classes: “The infants are crowded together on a gallery where they can have little variety of occupation and hence they naturally get inattentive and restless, and though the instruction is painstaking the results in some respects was unsatisfactory…………..The enlargement of the premises is absolutely necessary, not only is it impossible with such cramped space to teach the children properly but it is most unhealthy to have 80 children in a room which accommodates 42.” The extension itself was eventually built during the Harvest vacation, a fact recorded in the school log book and later praised by the HMI: “Present 132 out of 153 on books. School at regular work, discipline good, registers correct. The dustbin is in a bad position. The addition to the infants room is a great improvement. Ernest Wix, HMI Sept 30th 1887”
According to the school records, on the 1st July 1896 a supply of water was turned on for the first time. Mr. Ford's entry is very brief and to the point: "Mr. Davis visited this morning, 9.50 re the water supply. Water put on." However, it would appear the rest of the village was not so fortunate as on January 15th 1898 the Gazette reported concern that there was a lack of clean water in Leverstock Green, with a case of diphtheria being reported. St. Albans Rural District Council was told that Hemel Hempstead only supplied water as far as the Leather Bottle. The council also heard there was water in the wells, but some people had difficulty in getting to them and had used drain water.
Further improvements were made in January 1898 when a grant was made to the school of £28.9s 3d from the Education Department for the purpose of repairs and providing new furniture. However, by 1905 things were not so rosy!
An outline specification for necessary repairs to the school master’s house, Bedmond Road was drawn up. The actual outline specification report is a very bulky document dated July 19th 1905 and with lots of alterations – it looked as if it was written on the spot!
Masters House – Lower Bedmond Road
Take down the whole of the ceiling. Strengthen joists by the addition of a 6’ x 4” builder relath width and half and Recide float set and whiten floats.
Take out and renew decayed cill and frame of side window. Repair the iron window frame and repair and refix and lead lights and renew the window board.
Renew the lathing and planking of stanchion of iron window. Take out quarries, refit the frames, repair and refit the quarries and put on the iron striking plate to latch
Provide and set 18”Regulation stove pc 15/-
Strip \and paper walls of paper and clean down and pt old woodwork 2 coats and new woodwork 3 coats after priming.
Take down cills and relath and a half render float and set & whiten 2 floats.
Take down defective dado rails and make good plank.
The report then continued in this vein for 15 pages! Work noted as necessary included replacing the kitchen boiler for 80/- & lowering the kitchen floor and replacing it with a concrete floor. All the windows seemed to be in need of replacing or at least repairing, all wallpaper through the house needed stripping and replacing and most doors also needed replacing. There was then a list of similar work need to the extension to the house and the school, which included removing the roof of the house. Even the coal house & WC (outside presumably) needed its roof replacing! The coal house itself was to be demolished and rebuilt.
The school buildings were obviously divided into Infants, Boys and Girls schools. One other major item to be undertaken was the removal of a gallery in the Boys school. However, the school log books show that this was not removed for another 11 years, in October 1916. In fact the list of repairs was so long I am surprised that it was not condemned at that point, rather than staggering on until the 1930’s. [HALS: D/Emd/28 – repairs to Masters house 1905]
The following was Rev'd Durran't reply dated 28th July 1905:
In reply to your letter with the specification of repairs to Leverstock Green schools.
At the meeting of the managers this morning, it was decided to ask you to communicate with the County Council Surveyor, Mr Urban Smith as to the repairs and come to a settlement with him if possible as to what shall be done. Stating if necessary that we are able to spend about £89, and if necessary to go as far as £100. – This would involve raising money by subscription.
We wish to meet the County Council’s views in a friendly spirit and trust they will not put more burden on them than we can bear.
I may say, as I explained to the managers this morning, that I have since seeing Mr French written to the Clerk of the CC again asking him to let me know what repairs would satisfy them n- saying also that we did not contemplate doing any structural work & so did not send plans such as they have asked for in their previous letters to me.
I shall be away from home for some weeks and my address will be Priors Mount, Great Malvern. Mr J K Hart, Leverstock Green Farm, will as a manager be willing to be refurred to about the repairs, should you want to see anyone on the spot about these matters
Yours very truly (Yrs vy truly)
By 1908 The National School was renamed The Public Elementary School, Leverstock Green and was still run by Mr. & Mrs. Ford who had taken over in 1888. Three years later in December 1911 a note concerning the school accommodation was entered into the log book by Rev. Arthur Durrant:
“The Board of Education (Whitehall, London SW) have now further considered the question of revising the accommodation of the school on the basis allowing not less than 10 sq. feet of floor space for each older child and 9 sq. feet for each Infant. The accommodation as so calculated will be 59 Mixed and 52 Infants, and the Board propose to bring this reassessment into effect as from Jan. 1st 1912.
The average attendance should be brought within the limits of the revised accommodation as soon as possible: but if it is shown to the Board’s satisfaction that this would be impracticable or inconvenient, The Board will be prepared to allow a slight excess of average attendance over the numbers mentioned in the last paragraph as a temporary expedient until other arrangements can be made for the reception of the surplus children.”
Concerns about the size of the school were again being expressed in the HMI report of April 1912 :
“The Upper school is overcrowded, but it is difficult to find another school which excluded children could attend.” [S73]
On August 17th 1914 the 1st Battalion Queen's Westminster Rifles arrived at their war station in Leverstock Green, having been sent to the St. Albans area as part of the 2nd London Division of the Territorial Army and the Battalion's Headquarters were established in the village school. Fortunately the school was in any case closed due to the harvest holiday, but on 7th September 1914 - Mr. Ford, the headmaster at the school, reported in the log book " Reassembled after Harvest Holidays in the Baptist Chapel as the School is being used as an Orderly Room and Stores for the Queen's Westminster Rifles." It was to be a further 2 months before the troops departed and the school could reclaim its own buildings.
The Fords eventually resigned their posts in 1921 to take effect from the end of the summer or Harvest holiday. Walter Ayre and his wife taking over in the January of 1922. From notes made by Walter in a school exercise book we know the Master’s house was further enlarged with the addition of a bathroom and bedroom in 1922. - An intriguing note in the school log book May 16th 1923 reads as follows:
“Towards clearing off the Debt on the School, the sum of £14-11-7 has been obtained by a School Concert held on the 12th.” There had been no previous mention of any debt - but I think it may have been in connection with the building of new “offices” (toilets) mentioned earlier in the year.
In February 1928 the Gazette carried a very long article on the future of Leverstock Green School. The following is just the first paragraph:
“The Church school in Leverstock Green has been left behind in the march of Time. It is overcrowded, it is not in good condition, it has been condemned. The cost of the new school will be £4000 and the church folk in the parish are determined to raise that sum and thus retain the Church of England School in preference to a County Council School, and the great effort to realise that colossal sum for so small a village has commenced. Services with a special bearing on the subject were held on Sunday when the Rev Shilleto of the National Society for helping church school was the preacher. The ball was set rolling in real earnest, hoverer, on Tuesday night when there was a public meeting held at the Parish Hall which was well filled”.
The article went on to report the speech given by the Vicar, and the fact that the Earl of Verulam had given some land along Pancake Lane for the building of the new school. The Move to the new school came in 1930, but Walter Ayre & his family continued to live in the Master’s House, though the deeds of the property which I have recently been fortunate enough to see, show that it had been sold to Percy Webster considerably earlier than that. In fact the property and surrounding land had been vested in John Dickinson and was technically part of his estate. In 1911 the Master's House and adjoning land was sold by Sir Arthur Evans' Eastate (Arthur Evans was John Dickinson's Grandson) to Percy Webster of Sibley's Orchard, and not finally sold to Mrs C.L. Ayre ( the then schoolmaster's wife) until July 1956 when she paid £500 for it, and it. The School rooms were used for scouts, guides and a child welfare clinic. Part of the 1887 school extension was taken down in 1969 to make a pathway, the rest of the school buildings being removed not long afterwards and replaced with the present houses. Following the death of Walter Ayre’s daughter in the late 1990’s, the house was purchased by new owners who have renovated the property whilst still keeping its original character.
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